One of the only things I accurately predicted about new motherhood was that breastfeeding was something I couldn’t study from a book beforehand. Sure, I knew the basics of it all and had a bare-bones understanding of human lactation, but nothing quite prepared me for what it would feel like to nurse that baby…all day and all night. All the time.
My births ended in unexpected cesareans, so breastfeeding was a struggle for me in many ways in the very beginning. For starters, I had the shakes from the anesthesia, so I wasn’t able to control my arms. Both times, I got assistance starting breastfeeding in the recovery room and it was so important to me.
Luckily, this was something I’d read in a book–that it was important to establish nursing as soon as possible. What I didn’t know was that it would be important for me mentally as much as it was important for my kiddos.
With my first son, my midwife held him to my breast for me and helped me position my hand and my breast to help that wee little mouth latch on. For some reason, I started both kids on the right side (I’m left-handed and it is usually easier for me to nurse on that side) and for some reason I remember which side they both nursed from first!
My older son hooked right on. He didn’t suckle or stay there long, but I felt such elation that he hooked on to me and felt comforted, zonked out and shaking as I was.
Our pediatrician made rounds in the hospital and, once I got over feeling embarrassed at him seeing me in my post-operative, barely clothed state, I hung on his words:
“You want to make sure to offer him the breast as much as possible.”
And I did. All the time. And it really felt like all the time. Around the clock, again and again, until I hadn’t showered for days and it seemed impossible that I might ever go to the bathroom by myself. I remember thinking I invented peeing while nursing the baby in the baby carrier.
I was shocked by his intense need for me and only me in the beginning. I felt very nervous about my milk supply, had a lot of stress about my birth experience and looming return to work…I was a hot mess and eventually wound up with low milk supply. I vowed to have a different mental experience the next time around and to feel calmer about nursing my first son once he was past nursing simply for nutrition. I kept nursing him as best as I could until he was 27 months old.
So with my second son, we had an excellent beginning. I knew what to expect. I recognized him rooting before he was even an hour old and, because of the shakes, had my husband smoosh my breast into the c-hold while my doula held my son to my chest. And he stayed there for…well, he’s there right now! Even at 8 months, he nurses like a newborn.
I felt so much more confident this time that as long as he had my milk, he’d be totally fine. And even though it still makes my skin crawl sometimes to think about nursing AGAIN when I’ve not left the couch in hours, I know it won’t always be this way and I’ve been able to enjoy these long sessions much more.
I suppose my point is that if I could write a letter to my first-time-pregnant self, I’d tell her to definitely prepare to be intensely needed all the time. Like, All. The. Time. And to just roll with that because there would come a time when I could leave the house solo again.
The key to a good beginning with nursing was, for me, outside help. I needed a supportive pediatrician who understood and applauded full-term breastfeeding. I needed other moms nursing kids of similar ages and nursing kids slightly older to help reassure me in moments of doubt. I needed folks to help me take care of my house and myself so I could focus on taking care of that nursing baby. So, in this letter to my former self, I’d make sure to tell younger-Katy to get over it and just accept all the help that people are going to offer.
What was the ticket to a good beginning for you and your nursling? What would you tell your younger self if you could write her a letter? Leave us a comment to let us know.